As part of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Curating the City: Wilshire Boulevard event, the Modern Committee will re-open the long-shuttered googie-style Johnie's Coffee Shop for one day only!
Designed by famed L.A. architects Armet & Davis, it first opened in 1955 as Romeo's Times Square. By 1957 it had become Ram's and by 1966 Johnie's. Johnie's closed in 2000.
Today Johnie's is one of the last remaining googie coffee shops in Los Angeles.
Join the Los Angeles Conservancy's self-guided tour on Sunday, October 2 which includes a stop at Johnie's and 5 other historic sites on Wilshire. We'll have pie and coffee, a docent-lead tour, exhibit, rare 3D slides of Wilshire in the 50's and a book signing by Alan Hess, author of Googie Redux! Special guest: Johnie's Architect Eldon Davis. This is the first time Johnie's has been open to the public in 5 years.
Receive updates about this event and other ModCom activities by subscribing to the Johnie's Wilshire mailing list.
Tickets may be available the day of the event, but our programs often sell out, so buy your tickets now to guarantee your space.
In 1949 architect John Lautner, who trained under Frank Lloyd Wright, was asked to design an eye-catching restaurant at the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights on a small lot next to the famous Schwab's drugstore. Lautner created a sort of crashed spaceship on a concrete base with a bright orange upswept roof from which hung the neon sign for Googies restaurant.
Googies became a hangout for bohemians and young actors from James Dean to Vampira to Lenny Bruce (who was once thrown through the restaurant's plate-glass window).
The futuristic structure startled the architectural community who derided it for its unusual lines and "undisciplined" design. However, restaurant owners eager to attract the attention of passing motorists became enamored with the colorful cafés of architects like Honnold & Rex, Martin Stern, Jr. and Armet & Davis. Lautner’s restaurant eventually lent its name to the whole style of architecture.
In 1951, inspired by the first googie coffee shops, USC grads Louis Armet and Eldon Davis created a spectacular sculptural icon for Clock restaurant in Westchester. This was their first true googie design and they soon refined and perfected the style. Their creations defied gravity and were created from new and exotic materials like resin, flagcrete and Formica. The best designs called on a whole team of experts who dreamt up fantastic environments where science fiction met the World's Fair, and breakfast was served 24 hours a day.
Besides Romeo's Times Square (Johnie's) the firm has created over 4,000 coffee shop and restaurant designs from Norms to Bob’s to the first Denny's, which spread their style nationwide. One of their best creations, Pann’s in Ladera Heights, earned a Los Angeles Conservancy Preservation Award for its 1993 restoration. Armet Davis Newlove Architects (ADNA) approaches their 60th anniversary and continues to design restaurants from their offices in Santa Monica.
Here are some of the lost googie gems on Wilshire:
Zip's - 2500 Wilshire Blvd.
Another Armet & Davis design from the 50's.
Tiny Naylors - 3037 Wilshire Blvd.
As Wilshire straightened out west of Lafayette Park, motorists were welcomed by the canted roof and glass enclosed interior of Tiny Naylors, designed in 1954, across the street from Bullocks Wilshire.
Tiny Island, opened as Tiny Naylors, was demolished in June 2004.
In 1952 "Tiny" Naylor opened the first store in a chain named after his son Biff. The store's illuminated pavilion of prefab steel and glass opened on to a row of shiny parked cars. Located at 9711 Wilshire and Roxbury, it was later replaced by store number nine at 9725 Wilshire Blvd.
In 1960, the venerable drive-in Truman's at Wilshire and Westwood was remodeled by Armet & Davis, who transformed it into a lavish coffee shop with a "exotic" theme. It featured the Safari Room and the White Hunter Bar.
Across the street at Wilshire and Glendon was Ships Westwood. The second Ships landed in 1958 and was designed by Martin Stern Jr. Ships was the mother lode of googie and graced the corner for 26 year before being demolished. The fight for this building was key to the formation of the Modern Committee.
Just a block from the ocean was another Coffee Dan's in Santa Monica, also designed by Honnold. Built in 1954, it was a composition in simple blocks and mitered glass corners.
With the exception of the transitional Zucky's (1954, Weldon J. Fulton) in Santa Monica, only Johnnie's at Fairfax and Wilshire, one of the busiest and most architecturally dynamic intersections in the City, survives as a reminder of Wilshire's glorious googie past.
Up until World War I, what would become known as Johnie's was just an undeveloped field. Though neither lush nor extravagant, the lot soon caught the eye of Cecil B. DeMille, legendary director and aviation enthusiast. In 1919, DeMille decided to partner up with actor Sydney Chaplin (Charlie's brother) to create Mercury Aviation Company. Housing a small fleet of planes that could either take parties to Catalina or deliver mail across California, DeMille Airfield #2 was the first resident of the northwest corner of Wilshire and Fairfax.
After about six years, both branches of the business were forced to fold. DeMille's field was resuscitated by Rogers Aircraft Inc. around 1922, but by 1928, airplanes no longer lingered on site, and a modest building for the realtors who first developed Wilshire Boulevard, Hugh Evans and Company, took their place. They closed their doors in 1935.
The lot's preeminent location seemed ideal for restaurateurs and that same year architect Wayne McAllister designed the Streamline Moderne Simon's Drive-In. By about 1950, the restaurant was razed and in 1951 was taken over by yet another set of real estate-minded folk, Henry E. Burke Realtors, who remained there for almost half a decade.
In 1955, New York accountant Harold S. Ahrens moved to Los Angeles and commissioned Armet & Davis to design Romeo's Times Square, a coffee shop eccentrically equipped with a pizza oven and ample allusions to Juliet. In 1957, Mr. Ahrens moved back to New York and the restaurant became Ram's Coffee Shop, which remained in business until 1965. In December 1966, the building was known as Johnie's, which operated there until 2000. The building is currently owned by 99 Cents Only Stores and used as a film location.
The Los Angeles Conservancy, the largest membership-based local historic preservation organization in the country, is dedicated to the recognition, preservation, and revitalization of the architectural and cultural heritage of greater Los Angeles.
Established in 1978, the Conservancy grew out of the community-based effort to prevent demolition of the Los Angeles Central Library. The organization has grown to a membership of more than 8,500 households, including more than 400 volunteers. With a two-fold mission of advocacy and education, the Conservancy works to preserve existing architectural resources by developing preservation strategies and by raising public awareness of the value of those resources through tours, lectures, publications and major programs such as Last Remaining Seats.
The Los Angeles Conservancy is a non-profit organization, with an Internal Revenue Service determination of 501(c)(3).
LA Conservancy's website
"Today it is difficult to remember the low esteem in which most post-war architecture was held in the 1980s. But the far-sighted volunteers of the Modern Committee were not fazed by conventional wisdom. They plunged into saving a truly remarkable spectrum of buildings; by embracing commercial and popular architecture alongside high art and residential buildings, they revolutionized the way we see our history and our cities. The task they set for themselves was breathtaking. They were pioneers in this field, actively leading the way for the nation. If any buildings from this critical period in our state and national history survive to enrich the streets of tomorrow, it is due to the efforts of Modcom members. Posterity owes them the same debt of gratitude it does to the earlier dedicated preservationists who fought to preserve the California Missions, Victorian homesteads, Craftsman bungalows and Art Deco theaters."
Author, Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture
It was the summer of 1984 when Conservancy board member Martin Eli Weil suggested that the group form a task force to investigate preservation options for buildings from the recent past. When two particularly striking restaurant designs (Ships in Westwood and Hollywood's Tiny Naylors) were demolished that year, the Fifties Task Force was born.
For over two decades, the group has produced dozens of special events, lectures, publications, and tours to educate the public about our legacy of Modern architecture in Southern California.
Renamed the Modern Committee, the group has advocated for the preservation of key sites of historic interest throughout Los Angeles County. In 1988 we worked with Ray Eames to landmark the studio she built with husband Charles Eames in 1948, teamed up with original architect Wayne McAllister to preserve his 1949 Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Burbank and received assistance from Pierre Koenig on our sweeping nomination of all the remaining Case Study houses. Our efforts to preserve the world's oldest McDonald's in Downey made the front page of The New York Times in 1993.
Johnie's is one of six special sites on the Los Angeles Conservancy's Curating the City tour. For the Johnie's site, we wish to extend a special thank you to David Gold and 99¢ Only Stores for graciously donating the use of Johnie's.
Thanks also to the other sponsors of the Johnie's site:
- 101 Coffee Shop
- Arcadian Flooring
- The Icon
- LA Eyeworks
- National Promotions and Advertisting
- Sign Depot
And to the following people for their valuable help:
- Charles Ahrens
- Adriene Biondo
- Marcelle Boudreaux
- Kent Bulza
- Courts Carter
- Carolyn Cole of the Los Angeles Public Library
- Eldon Davis
- Warner Ebbink
- John Eng
- John English
- Henry Garcia
- Getty Research Institute
- Charlene Gould
- Chris Green
- Ruth Handel
- Alan Hess
- Greg Iriart
- Ted Lambros
- John Lautner Foundation
- Jack Laxer
- Melissa Lo
- John Palmer Low
- Eric Lynxwiler
- Alex Maloutas
- Nathan Marsak
- Biff Naylor
- Victor Newlove
- Chris Nichols
- Michael Palumbo
- The Scott Peters Jazz Vibe Experience
- Bill Potts
- Meri Pritchett
- Bob Reiss
- Gary Shafner
- Billy Shire
- Mary-Margaret Stratton
- Nola Talmage
- Larry Underhill
- Marc Wanamaker
- WebReach Inc.
- Lynn Zook
Don't miss this one-day opportunity to see Johnie's again. See an exhibit on lost googie. Experience Wilshire in 3D. Enjoy pie and coffee in one of the last remaining googie coffee shops. Purchase your tickets today! All proceeds benefit the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Johnie's Coffee Shop Address:
6101 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
Located at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax on the western edge of the Miracle Mile, this is one of the last remaining examples of googie architecture.